A NASA Expert Picks the Top Stargazing Events for 2024

We asked NASA astronomer Dr. Michelle Lynn Thaller when we should be looking up next year.

Everybody can pull up an astronomy calendar and see what's up (celestially) in 2024. Not everybody, though, is a NASA scientist who is able to filter through all the stargazing events and pick out the best ones to witness.

I might not be a NASA astronomer myself, but Dr. Michelle Lynn Thaller sure is, and in a recent interview with Thrillist, she shared her top picks of astronomical events happening in 2024—you know, so that you can properly mark your calendar and make your stargazing travel plans.

If you ask Dr. Thaller, she'll tell you that the total solar eclipse—which is, rightfully so, getting a lot of buzz right now—is the main star of the 2024 show, and you absolutely shouldn't miss it for the world. Regardless of whether you've seen it before or not, you should be planning to be in the path of totality on April 8, 2024, because as Dr. Thaller puts it, "they're all different, and they all have a different personality." This upcoming total solar eclipse will be Dr. Thaller's sixth one to witness, and she can't recommend it enough.

"[Total solar eclipses] are something that I honestly, honestly have to recommend that everybody tries to get to once in their life, because they are weirdly dramatic," she told Thrillist. "It's far more profound than people know. It gives you goosebumps, your instincts kind of pick up and think, 'Well, what's happening?' because it's getting dark in the middle of the day."

And the visuals are beautiful. Imagine a 360-degree sunset—that's the kind of sky you see during a total solar eclipse, which, for many people, is almost a spiritual experience. "Intellectually, you know that this is nothing to worry about," Dr. Thaller said. "And so it makes you smile, it makes you cry. It's surprisingly more than just, 'Hey, this guy goes dark.'"

While the sun will steal the show in 2024 with its main event, Dr. Thaller wants you to remember the moon as well. Forget about penumbral lunar eclipses, though—those aren't really that exciting, and as Dr. Thaller points out, most people don't even realize they're happening, since the moon doesn't pass through the darkest part of the shadow cast by the Earth.

But total lunar eclipses—that's something else. "The thing that you really want to see is a total lunar eclipse, when [the moon] is in the darkest part of the Earth's shadow," Dr. Thaller explained. "They're definitely worth going to see. Occasionally, if one is visible in the United States, I just set my alarm clock and then I get up in the middle of the night and see if it's clear that I can go out." It's a gorgeous sight: the moon turns a beautiful, deep rosy red, which, in Dr. Thaller's eyes, is really lovely.

What's really cool about total lunar eclipses is that they're not that rare, and they happen with some sort of regularity. While the next one visible from the US isn't until March 14, 2025, there will be some partial lunar eclipses in 2024 that are still worth looking out for. "During what they call a partial lunar eclipse, [the moon] will pass partially through the dark part of the shadow, but it won't block out the whole moon," Dr. Thaller explained. "Though, you'll see a sort of a dark shadow on the moon. That's cool. That's always neat."

If you're looking for something that happens more frequently, instead, meteor showers—especially the big and famous ones—are probably for you. And look at the bright side—you don't really have to be anywhere specific to witness them and make a few wishes. "As long as you have a dark sky and have a pretty clear view of the sky, they happen all over the world," Dr. Thaller pointed out. "They're not better in any particular part of the world, but the darker sky you have, the more meteors you'll see, and the more spectacular it will be."

In January 2024, the Quadrantids are coming up as the first meteor shower of the year peaking around January 3 and 4 according to the International Meteor Organization, and you should also be on the lookout for the most iconic and famous ones, including the Aquariids in early May (May 5 and 6), the Perseids in mid-August (August 12 and 13), and the Geminids in mid-December (December 13 and 14).

All the impatient space enthusiasts like myself, though, will be pleased to know that, as a treat, Dr. Thaller pointed out one really cool event that's happening at the end of this year. On December 11, Betelgeuse—a big bright red star that is actually the brightest star in the constellation of Orion—is going to disappear for a bit, courtesy of an asteroid traveling in our own solar system. "This asteroid is just minding its own business going around the sun," Dr. Thaller explained. "But its orbit is going to actually cover up Betelgeuse. And so for a couple of minutes Betelgeuse will actually disappear from the sky." The only part of the United States that will be able to witness the phenomenon, though, is Florida. If you're in southern Europe, instead, you're golden—most of it will have a golden ticket to the event.

At the end of the day, though, if you really ask Dr. Thaller, she'll tell you that yes, stargazing events are cool, but they don't necessarily make or break your stargazing experience. The best piece of advice she has for you is to go outside and simply look at the stars. "Sitting underneath the stars on a really dark night, I think, is a profound experience," she said. "It's something that just makes me feel full of awe, it kind of calms me down. The attempt that anybody could make is to find a wonderful, clear, dark place. There's so much up there in the sky that isn't necessarily changing or based on an event."

Dr. Thaller will also tell you that stars are where everything begins and ends. It's where actual atoms of the elements we know are created, so looking at a constellation like Orion, you get to see newborn stars as well as dying stars, like Betelgeuse. "You go out and look at Orion and you see birth and death and where you came from and where we're going," she said. "The death of the solar system, the birth of the solar system, the creation of the elements of life—you see them all in that one constellation."

And the next time you're stargazing, whether it's for a celestial event or not, Dr. Thaller will tell you that you should think about all this. You should think about this deeply. "Just go out and look at the stars and think about your connection to them," she said. "We're the end state of stars. Astronomy isn't just about stuff that is so far away or so large you can't comprehend it—it's about where your breakfast came from."

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in and stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities.

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Serena Tara is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. She will beg you not to put pineapple on pizza. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.